Things are going famously well for Kopano Matlwa. Her second book, Spilt Milk, recently made the long list for the 2011 Sunday Times Fiction Prize, and was up against great writing talent like Zukiswa Wanner (Men of the South), Craig Higginson (Last Summer), Wessel Ebersohn (Those Who Love Night), and Chris Marnewick (The Soldier Who Said No), to name but just a few.
Although she didn’t make the shortlist, Matlwa has already registered some success. Her debut novel, Coconut, won the Wole Soyinka Prize for African Literature in 2010.
Spilt Milk , published in 2010 by Jacana Media, is one for the Born-Free generation – for them and about them. The plot conjures up images of those institutions that some prefer to call academies, not schools; the Oprah Winfrey-type places of learning. Except through Matlwa’s pen the founder, Mohumagadi, is the principal. All the teachers have Dr. as a title of address though she doesn’t say if any holds a doctorate and, if so, from which institution of higher learning.
And the children? They belong to single parents. Isn’t that the latest fad? The mothers brandish Blackberry phones, drive cars with personalized registration plates, travel the world on business and are either diplomats, CEOs of companies or newspaper columnists in their down time.
One of the children, Ndudumo, in her own words, a sexually conscious 10 year-old, is the daughter of a radio DJ turned writer. Her friend, Moya, is nothing like the free-talking Ndudumo but in her quiet reserve, she finds time to talk about masturbation with the ease of speech little girls swoon over their dolls.
The duo, along with two boys; Mlilo and Zulwini are detained – the after-school type – after a sex act in the back of a school bus. The quartet will point out towards the end of the book that this was merely a school project gone awry, nothing sexual.
If the creator of Harry Potter set out to make her child characters magical, Matlwa succeeds in making her own little geniuses, future members of Mensa.
Into this high class spick-and-span mix lands a disheveled white cleric with pus-heavy dry lips, Father Bill – William Thomas – who, 15 years prior had bonked and dumped Mohumagadi, the principal, at a Christian boarding school the author dithers to identify as such.
While Father Bill still loves Mohumagadi and continues to call her by her real name – Tshokolo, Mohumagadi has never forgiven him.
It takes the death of Mlilo, the shining light of the school for Mohumagadi to see the light that you can’t cry over spilt milk.
Read it so that you can, in the language of young South Africans, get with it.
© makatilemedia 2011